Reflections on Norbertine Formation

Religious Life is a Full Life / La Vida Religiosa – Una Vida Plena

As seen in the Spring/Summer 2017 issue of Abbey Magazine (pages 2-3)

Br. Jacob Sircy, O. Praem., and Frater Patrick LaPacz, O. Praem., walking in a Chicago South Side neighborhood.

Br. Jacob Sircy, O. Praem., and Frater Patrick LaPacz, O. Praem., walking in a Chicago South Side neighborhood.

By Fr. John Bostwick, O. Praem.

Translated by Sr. Guadalupe Muñoz, RGS

Crash! Crash! Crash! The young Norbertines peeked out from behind the curtains in the rectory office to discover six or seven young men using an old railway tie to try to batter down the door. What to do? The fraters were alone in the rectory. It was nighttime in 1968. Finally, one of them—probably naïvely—decided to engage the gang members and went outside to confront them.

After a little yelling and ranting, the situation calmed down but the conversation continued. The gang members were curious about these white boys, who they were, and how they lived. As they heard that the religious lifestyle embraces vows of poverty, chastity, and obedience, the boys’ response was a mixture of awe and skepticism. The most memorable comment was, “You don’t have money; you don’t do drugs; you don’t have sex. What the ____ do you live for?”

Many people view religious life as a life of sacrifice; they see it in terms of what the vowed woman or man gives up. But this is a distortion, however innocent. While it is true that the vowed life involves asceticism, a distinct discipline, this way of living is ordered to maximum freedom—freedom for love, service, and community.

Commitment can be the path to freedom for any person. We all make choices that exclude other options. In marriage a person commits self to one person “forsaking all others” until “death do us part.” The vows of religious, or equally, of marriage, are not focused on deprivation, but on freedom. They are a purposeful choice for something that is perceived as a good, positive, and fulfilling way of living and loving.

Jesus said, “I have come that you might have life and have it to the full” (John 10:10). The vows of religious are one time-tested and honorable way of living in that fullness.

Plena por Padre John Bostwick, O. Praem.

Traducido por Hermana Guadalupe Muñoz, RGS

(Ruido … Ruido … ) Los jóvenes Norbertinos se asomaron desde atrás de las cortinas en la oficina de la rectoría para descubrir a seis o siete jóvenes utilizando un palo viejo de ferrocarril, intentando destruir la puerta. ¿Qué hacemos? Los frailes estaban solitos en la rectoría. Era de noche en 1968. En fin, uno de ellos, a lo mejor ingenuamente, decidió confrontarlos y salió a ver que querían.

Después de un rato de gritar y argumentar, la situación se calmó pero la conversación siguió. Los miembros de la pandilla … curiosos acerca de estos muchachos vestidos de blanco … ¿Quiénes eran? y ¿Cómo vivían? … Mientras escuchaban que el estilo de vida religiosa implica los votos de pobreza, castidad y obediencia, la respuesta de los jóvenes era una mezcla de pavor y escepticismo. El comentario más memorable fue: “Ustedes no tienen dinero; no usan drogas; no tienen relaciones sexuales. ¿Para qué, viven … pues?”

Mucha gente considera la vida religiosa como vida de sacrificio; la ven en términos de lo que la mujer o el hombre con votos sacrifica. Pero esto es una distorsión, aunque sea inocente. Aunque es cierto que la vida con votos implica ascetismo, una disciplina distinta … esta manera de vivir produce la máxima libertad para amar y para el servicio en comunidad.

El compromiso puede ser camino hacia la libertad para cualquier persona. Todos hacemos elecciones que excluyen otras opciones. En el matrimonio una persona se compromete con otra persona “renunciando a todos los demás” hasta que “la muerte nos separe.” Los votos de religiosos, al igual que los del matrimonio, no se enfocan en la privación, sino en la libertad. Son una opción a propósito para algo que se percibe como manera buena, positiva y satisfactoria para vivir y amar.

Jesús dijo, “He venido, para que tengan vida y la tengan en plenitud” (Juan 10:10). Los votos de la vida religiosa son una manera probada por los tiempos y una manera honorable de vivir en esa plenitud.

Foundational Friendships

As seen in the Spring/Summer 2017 issue of Abbey Magazine (pages 11-13)

In this world two things are essential: life and friendship. Both should be highly prized and we must not undervalue them. Life and friendship are nature’s gifts. God created us that we might exist and live: this is life. But if we are not to remain solitary, there must be friendship.

—St. Augustine

By Judy Turba

I recently had the privilege of interviewing three Norbertine seminarians: Deacon Michael Brennan, O. Praem., Frater Patrick LaPacz, O. Praem., and Frater Jordan Neeck, O. Praem.

We discussed their life together within the Norbertine community, specifically their time at Holy Spirit House of Studies, the Norbertine home in Chicago, located near Catholic Theological Union, where they are pursuing graduate studies.

By living, working, and praying together throughout the past few years, these young men who once had been strangers have become not only brothers in Norbert, but also treasured and most likely lifelong friends. Here they share their journey of life and friendship.


Holy Spirit House of Studies, Chicago

Holy Spirit House of Studies, Chicago

What are the joys and challenges of living in a home together, where you are responsible for cooking, cleaning, and other household chores, as well as praying and studying together? How has this environment enhanced your friendship with one another?

Deacon Mike: In America, we live in a culture that fosters individualism, where there’s not a lot of actual face-to-face interaction. Here, we rub elbows—we live together. And while we often study alone, Patrick, for instance, might suddenly pop in and say something like, “Talk to me.”

Frater Patrick: Or Mike will sneeze really loudly and I’ll yell back to him, “God bless you.”

4841: Holy Spirit House of Studies, Chicago

4841: Holy Spirit House of Studies, Chicago

Deacon Mike: These little interactions really pull us out of ourselves. I think that’s one of the reasons many of us have chosen community life. We long for relationships. Our tradition understands the Trinity as the God of relationship. Sometimes we want to isolate ourselves from one another, but in the end it’s good to bump elbows, it’s good to have someone intentionally come into our space and say, “I want to hang out.” It gets us out of our own heads a bit.

Frater Jordan: When I was taking classes at Notre Dame last summer, I got a call from Mike or Patrick every week, or I called them. Being away made me really appreciate them and the Norbertine way of life. And making each of us better people is what religious life is all about: growing in “one mind and one heart on the way to God.”


Frater Jordan Neeck, O. Praem. (left), and Frater Patrick LaPacz, O. Praem., on their way to Catholic Theological Union, Chicago.

Frater Jordan Neeck, O. Praem. (left), and Frater Patrick LaPacz, O. Praem., on their way to Catholic Theological Union, Chicago.

Realizing all relationships include a bit of conflict or misunderstanding, or simply a case of others getting on our nerves, how do you three handle conflict when it arises?

Deacon Mike: One of the ways we deal with conflict is we have fun with it. We really do enjoy each other’s company and all of us are good at teasing one another. I have a tendency to be a bit loud and assertive. When that happens, I’ll be referred to as “coach.” Meaning I don’t have to go on and on as I sometimes do. But we definitely have some serious conversations, too, depending upon the person, the topic, and the day.

Frater Jordan: Depending on the day—that’s important—being able to really read one another before we bring out the teasing. Also, humility plays a part in this. I know I have my own quirks and there are days I’m not easy to live with. But humor can ease that tension. Fraternal correction is in our Rule, but it’s so hard to directly correct someone. Humor softens those edges.


Left to right: Deacon Michael Brennan, O. Praem., Frater Jordan Neeck, O. Praem., Frater Patrick LaPacz, O. Praem.

Left to right: Deacon Michael Brennan, O. Praem., Frater Jordan Neeck, O. Praem., Frater Patrick LaPacz, O. Praem.

Judith Viorst, author of Necessary Losses, asserts that it is much easier to stand by our friends in their sadness and their adversity, but that the true test of friendship is being able to stand by our friends in their joys and their successes. Is there truth for you in this statement, and if so, how?

Frater Jordan: I recently read that 94 percent of priests identify as “happy”—a rate higher than doctors, teachers, and lawyers. But most of the support and affirmation for these priests comes from family, friends, and people they shepherd; sadly, it does not always come from other clergy. We’re here to support each other when we’re down, but how often do we take time to celebrate each other’s successes? This is a challenge not only within priesthood, but also throughout humanity.


Fr. James Herring, O. Praem., Master of Professed and local superior at Holy Spirit House of Studies

Fr. James Herring, O. Praem., Master of Professed and local superior at Holy Spirit House of Studies

You pray together three times a day, everyday—Morning Prayer, Evening Prayer, and Mass. How does this impact your friendship?

Frater Jordan: You heard us sing, Judy!

Deacon Mike: Yeah, it’s not always a “joyful song unto the Lord.”

Frater Patrick: I think prayer is time spent together in a special way, even though it can be a bit frustrating if someone is off pitch, or when I can’t get the right tones.

Deacon Mike: Living together, we know each other’s strengths and weaknesses. But it’s in communal prayer that I think we are most forgiving because everyone is making his best effort. In shared prayer, we are more charitable with one another—perhaps more so than in other aspects of life. When I’m away I’ll pray my breviary alone. But it’s worlds apart from communal prayer, which I desperately miss. Here in the house, praying together makes us more than roommates; we are a community of brothers.

Frater Jordan: I learned when people pray or sing or chant together, they start to breathe together, and their hearts become in sync. Even though there are differences among us, this aspect of our prayer life brings us together as Norbertines. Our lives are rooted in prayer.


Deacon Michael Brennan, O. Praem. (left), and Frater Jordan Neeck, O. Praem.

Deacon Michael Brennan, O. Praem. (left), and Frater Jordan Neeck, O. Praem.

As you mentioned, none of you knew each other before you entered the community, yet today you call each other friends and brothers. What have these relationships brought to your life? How are you a better, more faithful Norbertine because of each other?

Deacon Mike: Patrick has this attention to detail, especially when it comes to anything liturgical or any project for that matter. While he might not be the first one to start the project, he’ll make sure it’s done right. He inspires me to be in tune to the sacredness of the liturgy. Jordan has a dedication to running and healthy living. Because of him, I’ve started running again and we both signed up for the Chicago Marathon.

Frater Patrick: Mike has a strong private prayer life, spending time in the chapel before communal prayer and at other times throughout the day. He motivates me to spend time on my own spiritual life. Jordan is a model of healthy living, consistently running and eating well. When it comes to academics he’s always on the ball. He never procrastinates. I trust both of them and am able to talk with them about deeper issues.

Frater Jordan: When Mike is passionate and on fire, he goes for it. He is extroverted. I tend to be introverted and have to try to be more outgoing. I admire his care and concern for other people. Whenever an opportunity arises to build relationships, Mike is always willing to take me with him.

Deacon Mike: I have really good college buddies, but I don’t have the day-to-day conversations with those guys that I have with two of my best friends right now: Patrick and Jordan. I anticipate having them walk with me throughout life. It’s a blessing to reflect upon the idea of friendship this early in our religious life, and to anticipate the ways that will challenge and benefit us as we live out our Norbertine vocation.


Frater Patrick LaPacz, O. Praem. (right)

Frater Patrick LaPacz, O. Praem. (right)

Ideally, how do you imagine your friendship 10, 20, 30 years from now? What are your hopes and dreams, regarding not only your friendship with each other, but also relationships within your entire community?

Frater Jordan: A few questions were recently posed to us in class: How are we as Norbertines different from diocesan pastors? What is distinctive about our form of religious life, and how do we remain committed to it? For us, it’s not all about work. It’s also about community and being committed to one another. It’s about being intentional and constantly reminding ourselves about our commitment to one another. I’ll be there for my brothers, and I may have to sacrifice something at my work to be present to them.

Deacon Mike: I’ll be ordained a priest on May 27, and as I move closer to priesthood, I realize I’m not worthy to be a priest. None of us are. I’m not saying this in a self-deprecating way. As Jordan says, this life—this vocation—is such a grace. It reminds me how much I’ll need to rely upon my family, my friends, the People of God, my Norbertine brothers, and especially on God, for love and support.

To find out more about men in formation for the Norbertine priesthood, see the Spring/Summer 2013 issue of Abbey Magazine (pages 8-10).

An Evening of Prayer, Service, and Brotherhood

By Frater Jordan Neeck, O. Praem.

Frater Jordan Neeck, O. Praem.

Frater Jordan Neeck, O. Praem.

Perhaps I am a sucker for nostalgia. I can’t help but delight, on any given Sunday in the Archdiocese of Chicago, when I encounter someone who has been influenced by a Norbertine of St. Norbert Abbey.

Sure, many people have encountered Norbertines either when they lived in Green Bay or went to St. Norbert College in De Pere, but there are a good number of people who share stories of Norbertines who served in parishes right here, within the Archdiocese of Chicago.

Many of the names shared are Norbertines I’ve never met, but I still marvel at the impact that these priests, brothers, and seminarians have had and continue to have on the people to whom we currently minister. I can’t help but feel a great joy in being part of such a legacy and fraternity.

Today, while Norbertines may not have a Chicago parish to call their own, our community continues to serve the faithful, maintaining a presence at our house of studies and at other apostolic outreach ministries. One place someone currently may encounter a Norbertine is at Old St. Patrick’s Parish, where Deacon Michael Brennan, O. Praem., and I serve on a part-time basis.

… I’m reminded of the gift of my brothers and thankful in the sharing of our lives.

—Frater Jordan Neeck, O. Praem.
Frater Jordan Neeck, O. Praem. (right), and Deacon Michael Brennan, O. Praem.

Frater Jordan Neeck, O. Praem. (right), and Deacon Michael Brennan, O. Praem.

One of the ministries in which I’m engaged includes ministering to the young adults of this parish. Recently, on the Solemnity of St. Joseph, I assisted in planning (with the help of many) an event known as a “Night of Prayer and Action,” connecting both contemplation and prayer with action and service.

Contemplation and action are an intrinsic part of the Norbertine way of life in which one (contemplation) fuels or compliments the other (action), and vice versa. While the event was well-attended and engaging, what proved to be most profound for me was the support and help I received from my brothers in community.

One could say that the prayer element of the night—Eucharistic Adoration, Vespers, and Benediction—had heavy Norbertine influence; not only in its planning, but also in its celebration, as I received assistance from Deacon Michael, Frater Johnathan Turba, O. Praem., and Frater Anh Tran, O. Praem. Without the support, assistance, and willingness of my brothers to help, this night would not have been the same.

Old St. Patrick’s Parish in Chicago

Old St. Patrick’s Parish in Chicago

This experience, while it was about ministering to the people of Old St. Pat’s, was also about ministering to each other as brothers. Each of us had an important role for the night and each did his part well. The ministry was not about one individual … the ministry was about us, together, united in our common life and mission as Sons of St. Norbert.

After sharing this experience with my brothers in formation, I can’t help but imagine how similar this sharing of ministry was for those Norbertines who came before us. Once again, years later, the faithful of the Archdiocese of Chicago had an encounter with a band of Norbertines from St. Norbert Abbey, who gave witness to fraternity and demonstrated a sharing of life rooted from our earliest beginnings as a Christian community.

Frequently I take the support of my brothers for granted; however, this night I’m reminded of the gift of my brothers and thankful in the sharing of our lives.

St. Norbert … Pray for Us!

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